Tokyo 2020 has sparked ongoing conversations about mental health and wellbeing. Here’s why I think the sporting industry should listen.

Like everyone, I’ve been captivated by the action at Tokyo 2020. While the Olympics is an event that always attracts a lot of eyeballs, it’s been a particularly welcome distraction for those of us who are in lockdown.

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has been omnipresent over the games. The athletes had to endure the most unexpected of preparations thanks to the global pandemic – with the games delayed by 12 months – and it continues to lurk in the background. While we can be easily distracted by the medals, the individual feats of incredible athleticism and those tear-jerking moments, there are many more tales of heartache and failure.

Something that has been gaining momentum over the last few years and has been especially brought to light during this year’s games, is wellbeing.

During a recent conversation with an Olympic athlete, they reminded me that I “have seen sport from the inside out”. As a result, I’ve been reflecting on the many challenges Olympic sports have had in the lead up to the games, which can also be applied across all sports in Australia.

We often hear about the team behind the team: the coaches, managers, physiotherapists etcetera who all help athletes to perform and achieve. However, I believe the team is much more than this – it’s the entire sport they’re representing.

A sport cannot function without its people. Often this is made up of many other paid professionals and volunteers, all working to achieve the best outcome for the athletes and sport as a whole – from grassroots through to the Olympic elite.

Therefore, when we talk about wellbeing we shouldn’t be limiting the conversation just to athletes; we should be inclusive of everyone working within the sporting industry.

In my role, I feel very privileged to work on a daily basis with Boards and executive teams from national and state sporting organisations. One common theme in working with these talented people is their commitment, energy and respect in delivering great outcomes for their sport.

The global pandemic has been challenging for everyone. The sporting industry has seen an unprecedented increase in workload, and pressure on the physical and mental welfare of its workforce.

I have experienced first-hand the deliberations and personal heartache industry leaders have experienced, balancing immediate threats against the long term future of their sport, including the many extra hours and planning meetings during the rapidly changing environment we’ve found ourselves in.

Tokyo 2020 has again brought mental health and wellbeing to the forefront of societal conversations. We are a lot more conscious of it and the ways in which we can not only look out for each other but create an environment that fosters growth and sustainability across sport.

I believe that these conversations need to traverse all levels of sport. People of all levels are struggling with increased workload, uncertainty around the future and fatigue. Let’s also not forget the obvious financial challenges the sport and recreation industry as a whole are facing.

Now is an important time for our industry.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a variety of insightful and experienced people and culture professionals– both within the sporting industry and other sectors – who have helped shape my approach to delivering lasting and valuable people outcomes. It's an area I truly believe will help deliver long term sustainability to our industry. However, in my opinion, it is something severely under-resourced.

I don’t have all the answers, but I am passionate about helping the industry to secure and nurture great talent, so that our industry exceeds its potential...and that starts with the people who work within it. At a time when people are looking for a balanced life, which prioritises their health and wellbeing, our industry needs to be a leader in providing an environment that can deliver on, and foster, these practices.

Our people are our lifeblood; the heart and soul of our industry. So, let’s create an environment that attracts the very best people to join us.

I was recently asked to speak at a workshop. My topic was People, the most important resource of all. My immediate thought was to highlight the age-old question of succession planning and sport. This has been a topic of discussion many times and often the response is that many sports are too small to offer a real succession pathway. So, what is the alternative?

We are all aware of the many challenges our industry faces when it comes to succession or ‘people’ planning. While we all may agree with the concept of succession planning, current staffing structures or tight purse strings might not support such a shift.

So why not flip this view and give the individuals who are on a career journey in sport the tools to manage their own succession planning? For those on this journey, this fundamentally means considering where you want to go. Start to map out a five-year plan based around your ideal role and then focus your energy on achieving this.

Organisations can assist with this journey by using a collaborative approach. When both employers and employees take responsibility for considering succession planning, this burden can be shared. The best time to do this is when looking at new roles. Map out the path the new role will take and meet with the employee to discuss how they think they could move the position forward or what steps they need to take to fulfil their dream role. This would be a win-win situation. The cost of losing someone you have already invested in through training, time and knowledge transfer will undoubtedly set your organisation back, and the growth the team member experiences will be greater if they can continue on a clear path within the same organisation. However, at some point we all need that next challenge and encouragement to take the next step on the career journey.

Sometimes the answer can be as easy as providing a mentor to further develop a person’s skills, or experiences that allow them to grow outside of the role they are currently carrying out. These steps do not have to be expensive or a drain on your current resources. Customising your approach, as well as the path members of your team can explore will result in gains for both your organisation and your people.


When someone resigns, it is tempting to fall into the race against the clock to replace that person before handover time is lost or the work starts piling up. However, instead of rushing in with a re-hashed Job Description, this is a great opportunity to take a deep breath and step back to take a helicopter view of the role and look at what the current needs of your organisation are.

Taking some time to map the brief of the position before the Job Description is developed or refined will help ensure it is still the right role for your organisation. It is important to note that the brief of the position differs from the Job Description. The brief takes a wholistic view of the role in its relation to the organisation. It takes into account how the position fits within the organisation and how it helps drive the organisation forward and achieve its business goals. Without a proper brief, you can run the risk of repeating past mistakes with the role, the role stagnating or attracting the wrong candidate.

The staff resourcing needs of sporting organisations can change significantly as the landscape changes. What has worked in the past for one role may not be what your organisation needs to negotiate the current or future landscape of your sport. This applies from entry level positions, right up to Board Member positions.

Having been involved with many recruiting assignments in the sporting industry, I have seen that taking the time to get the brief right is the key to a sustainable long-term outcome. But how do we shift our focus from what the position currently looks like?

Firstly, the helicopter approach will redirect the focus from the position to the organisation as a whole. Take some time to assess your organisation’s current needs and the needs going forward into the next 2-3 years. Does the current position still allow you to achieve your goals?

Next, complete an exit interview with the outgoing team member. An exit interview will enable you to secure their input as to what they think the role should look like and the challenges they have faced or foresee the position facing in the future. You may find part of the reason for the current employee leaving is the inability to drive the position forward in its current format. Allowing time for the exit interview before starting the search for a replacement gives you invaluable feedback for your map.

Once you have received some constructive feedback, align it with your vision of where you want your organisation to go and then review the existing Job Description. Update the Job Description to reflect any changes.

With the role now taking shape, review the current capacity within your team. Identify any team members that may be able to step up into the role or take on some of the duties to provide your existing team members with new challenges and greater job satisfaction. Or, if you have been able to make significant changes to the position and value your outgoing team member, you may be able to counter offer with the newly shaped position.

As the parameters of the role come into view, assess whether the organisation could take a more flexible approach by considering someone part time, working from home or job sharing. More and more organisations now offer flexible working environments, and attracting the right people can become more of a challenge if you are not willing to consider these arrangements. Flexible working hours provide a win/win for employers and employees – you can often find someone for the same salary level who has a lot more experience and skills to offer but wants to work less hours.

Finally, take the time to map the brief in its entirety, including what you want in the role and the direction it should take, as well as what you do not want in the role. Including the ‘do not wants’ gives a better understanding of the type of person you are looking for. This could include character traits that may affect your team culture or duties that may have fallen under this role in the past that are no longer required to meet your goals.

The better the brief and Job Description, the better the candidate. A good brief and Job Description gives candidates a clear understanding of what you are looking for and will give them the confidence that you are an employer who takes the time and energy to value the role and the overall journey for appointing new people.

When operating in an ever-evolving environment such as that experienced in sport, a good organisation structure is the key to achieving your strategic business goals, but what makes a good structure?

Many organisations try to answer this question by employing good people, but having good people is only part of what makes a good structure.

To help drive your organisation forward, your organisation structure needs to have a good foundation and be strong enough to withstand changing conditions. You need to be sure your organisation will pick up the wind and sail forward, not capsize at the first sign of a ripple.

When doing a review of your organisation’s structure, it is important to take the time to look at your existing structure and assess whether it is built on a strong foundation. Does it have a clear plan and the right support structures in place?

Putting in place a clear strategic plan will help you develop a strong foundation for your organisation structure, however sporting organisations are often stretched for time and resources and try to push ahead to establish or review an organisation structure without a proper plan in place. Without pressing the pause button and looking at where it is you want your organisation to go, and how you are going to get there, you could end up with a ‘cart before the horse’ scenario where the strategic plan is built around the structure. This can result in the structure driving the direction of the organisation and can lead to the organisation going in a direction that is not financially viable or not delivering against the core business of the sport.

Once you have a clear plan in place, ensuring your organisation structure is strong enough to withstand any changes to the operating environment can be achieved by making sure you have the right people in the right areas to support the structure and that they are equipped to hold up under new challenges.

Operating in an evolving environment can be challenging and your organisation needs an element of flexibility to withstand these challenges. If you have not identified the stress points within your organisation structure, your organisation can suffer. These could be areas where some flexibility may be required within a job role, and of the person filling that role.

One of the biggest stress points within an organisation structure can be having a central load where one person carries the workload and keeps years of knowledge and experience in their head. When that person leaves, or the central load becomes too much, cracks will begin to show. If you have not put the right succession plan in place, it won’t be long until there is significant instability in your structure. This could then result in attention being diverted away from the organisation’s strategic goals to deal with ‘fire-fighting’ in order to minimise the disruption. This break in strategic direction can be enough to send an organisation crashing down, especially if it results in a loss of funding focus in an industry where funds are limited.

When building or reviewing your organisational structure, time and attention must be given to utilising the skills you need to reach your strategic business objectives. You may have some existing people who are skilled in a particular area, but these skills may not be what you need to drive your organisation forward. This could then lead to high financial and momentum costs for your organisation, paying salaries for skills that aren’t being utilised and a deficit in meeting strategic goals as individual goals aren’t being met. The flow-on from this could be disgruntled people whose skills are not being utilised and are struggling with demands outside of their range of expertise, or from those who are having to carry the load to fill the skills-gap. As a result, the organisation’s culture could suffer and the strategic direction be de-railed. Attracting the right people may also become more difficult if the culture is negative and the organisation could experience a downward spiral.

The right strategic plan coupled with the right people in the right roles will help avoid your organisation collapsing from within. Taking the time to review your organisational structure is not always possible in a fast-paced sporting industry, so if you need an expert who has the time to take a step back and give well-considered advice, contact us today.